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Mail-in ballot delivery hot topic ahead of Election Day

There’s been much debate over the use of mail-in ballots in Tuesday’s election. Among the concerns is whether the U.S. Postal Service is able to deliver the ballots in a timely manner.

The U.S. Postal Service’s website indicates it should be one to three business days for a first-class letter to arrive at its destination.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, issued a direct statement to the Sun-Gazette regarding the controversy and in an effort to test the timeliness of the system, the Sun-Gazette conducted an unscientific experiment, much like another it conducted in 2014 after the mail sorting facility on Reach Road was closed and mail sent to Harrisburg for processing.

“President Trump has spent months trying to undermine the election by sabotaging the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), denying it funding, dismantling vital services and spreading lies about non-existent mail-in voter fraud,” Casey told the Sun-Gazette.

“By his own admission, his intent is to make it harder for Americans to exercise their right to vote,” Casey said. “These deliberate actions put our democracy at risk,” he said.

Casey recalled how the U.S. Supreme Court has denied Republicans’ efforts to throw out ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 6 not once, but twice.

Despite President Trump and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s best efforts, Pennsylvania will count every vote, Casey said.

“USPS must rescind DeJoy’s harmful changes and the administration needs to support additional funding for USPS when we provide the American people with a long-overdue stimulus,” Casey said, adding, “Not just for the fairness of future elections, but for the integrity of the one of our government’s most important services.”

Timed with Casey’s statement, the Sun-Gazette mailed 50 letters to the homes of staffers to see how quickly they would arrive. The letters were sent from mailboxes in Montgomery, Hughesville, Avis, Montoursville and downtown Williamsport and sent to staff members living in Williamsport, Montgomery, Montoursville, Hughesville, South Williamsport, Bloomsburg, Avis and Wolf, Loyalsock and Gamble townships.

Of those, 49 letters were received either four or five days after mailing. One letter, however, took 15 days.

Additionally, the Sun-Gazette spoke to a local post office mail carrier. “The only thing that slows us down is packages and political mail,” said the carrier, who did not want his name mentioned.

“Letters are automated for the most part,” he said. “The extent of someone touching the letter other than me and the customer, they dump it in a tub and into a machine,” he said. “If it’s two to three days, maybe it’s three to four now, but maybe not even. It’s more like the three-day mark.”

For first-class mail taking five days or more from the date of mailing, the post office says go to your local office and speak to personnel about it.

As Tuesday draws near, mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania were expected to reach 3 million-plus. Of the state’s 9 million voters registered voters, that many say they are planning to mail in or had sent absentee ballots, The Associated Press said.

To see what Casey’s counterpart was saying about the mail controversy, the newspaper reached out to U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville. Unable to be reached directly, Toomey told reporters recently the state system is set up where the volume of mail-in ballots and the timing by which they come in could be very, very problematic.

Toomey said he supported state legislation to process mail-in ballots before Election Day, so counting can begin first thing on Tuesday morning and was confident if people got their mail ballots in on time, delivery would be on time for the election, though he does not favor counting ballots after Tuesday’s polls close.

Advancing election mail, including ballots, is the postal service number one priority now through the election, said Kristin Seaver, postal service chief retail and delivery officer, according to the Washington Post.

The service has processed 523 million pieces of election mail, a historic volume of ballots, ballot applications, voter information pamphlets and other items. That’s 62 percent higher than the 323 million pieces moved during the 2016 election cycle, according to the agency.

As for the results of the local experiment on mail delivery, a few of the editorial staff who took part in the local letter-mailing experiment said what they saw was rather positive.

“I actually kind of enjoyed it because I wanted to do mail-in voting,” said Mallorie McIlwain, a staff reporter. “I have family members who are susceptible (to COVID-19 due to preexisting conditions) and it will be easier for me to do mail-in voting than in-person,” she said. Her letters arrived within four days of sending them out.

“All of my letters came on time,” said Jason Hahn, a Sun-Gazette associate editor. Hahn, who lives in Montoursville, said he mailed the letters from the borough.

Hahn said he thought the experiment worked out better than expected, given the challenges the postal employees face this time of year, especially now.

The deadline to get mail-in ballots expired earlier this week on Tuesday, according to Lycoming County Voter Services.

To be certain, those with mail-in ballots, by now, should hand-deliver their votes to the county election offices, said Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar.

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